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Justice Dept. to Submit Redacted Affidavit Utilized in Trump Search Warrant

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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Thursday is anticipated to propose extensive redactions to the affidavit used to acquire a search warrant for former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence in an effort to shield witnesses from intimidation or retribution whether it is made public, officials said.

Despite a federal judge’s demand that the federal government submit its request by noon, it’s unlikely to guide to the immediate release of the affidavit. In its most complete form, the document would disclose vital, and potentially revelatory, details in regards to the government’s justification for taking the extraordinary step of searching Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8.

The submission by the Justice Department is a big legal milepost in an investigation that has swiftly emerged as a serious threat to Mr. Trump, whose lawyers have offered a confused and at times stumbling response. But additionally it is an inflection point for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who’s attempting to balance protecting the prosecutorial process by keeping secret details of the investigation, and providing enough information to defend his decision to request a search unlike some other in history.

“There are clearly opposed poles here,” said Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Columbia University, who said it may be difficult, even unimaginable, for Mr. Garland to strike the precise balance.

Last week, Bruce E. Reinhart, a federal magistrate judge in Florida, surprised prosecutors by saying he was inclined to release portions of the affidavit on the request of reports organizations, including The Recent York Times, after the federal government proposed redactions.

Disclosing even a partial version of the affidavit can be highly unusual: Such documents, which usually include evidence gathered to justify the search, like information provided by witnesses, are almost never unsealed before the federal government files criminal charges. There is no such thing as a indication the Justice Department plans to file charges anytime soon.

Judge Reinhart reiterated this week that he might comply with extensive redactions, acknowledging that they may very well be severe enough to render release of the ultimate document “meaningless.”

“I cannot say at this point that partial redactions might be so extensive that they are going to end in a meaningless disclosure, but I could ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing farther from the federal government,” he wrote in an order issued on Monday.

Justice Department officials have suggested they are going to abide by his general guidance but push hard to clean anything that might expose witnesses within the case to intimidation or retribution by Mr. Trump’s supporters. After the search at Mar-a-Lago, the F.B.I. reported a surge in threats against its agents; an armed man tried to breach the bureau’s Cincinnati field office, before being killed in a shootout with the local police.

Mr. Garland can also be overseeing the sprawling investigation into the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which has increasingly focused on the actions of Mr. Trump and his supporters. The attorney general has repeatedly said he’s going where the evidence leads him, unmoved by political considerations or concerns a couple of backlash, without “fear or favor.”

The Trump Investigations

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The Trump Investigations

Quite a few inquiries. Since former President Donald J. Trump left office, he has been facing several civil and criminal investigations into his business dealings and political activities. Here’s a have a look at some notable cases:

The Trump Investigations

Jan. 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a comprehensive narrative of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who’re conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.

The Trump Investigations

Georgia election interference case. Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney, has been leading a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. This case could pose probably the most immediate legal peril for the previous president and his associates.

The Trump Investigations

Recent York State civil inquiry. Letitia James, the Recent York attorney general, has been conducting a civil investigation into Mr. Trump and his family business. The case is targeted on whether Mr. Trump’s statements in regards to the value of his assets were a part of a pattern of fraud or were simply Trumpian showmanship.

But Mr. Garland’s unusual decision this month to call for the judge to unseal the warrant itself stemmed from a recognition that the search required public explanation, relatively than refusing to comment about current investigations, as he typically does, people near him said.

Mr. Garland and his aides don’t see that decision, or the news conference that accompanied it, as a strategic shift. Others have. And a few who back his tight-lipped caution toward the Jan. 6 investigation now say he should adopt a posture of complete disclosure on the Mar-a-Lago search to defend the integrity of the investigation.

“I believe anytime you search a former president’s home, you have got got to treat it with more transparency, and it is advisable disclose all the small print with alacrity and quickness,” said John P. Fishwick Jr., an Obama appointee who served because the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia from 2015 to 2017.

“All eyes are on this thing, and the general public should know what is occurring,” he added. “Americans are smart. They’ll evaluate what they see, and when things are hidden from them, they get suspicious.”

Mr. Trump’s legal team has not yet seen the affidavit; the federal government just isn’t required to indicate it to them. But they’ve not opposed efforts to unseal it nor taken a position in court that it needs to be released.

The previous president’s allies, who’ve also not seen the document, argue that its disclosure will prove Mr. Garland overreached and that Mr. Trump was in his rights to retain documents he believed he had informally, but legally, declassified in his final days as president.

“I believe the document is more likely to show there was no good-faith reason for the raid, despite the strained evaluation of the Presidential Records Act,” said Tom Fitton, a frequent defender of Mr. Trump and the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative legal advocacy group that also sued to unseal the whole document.

Key developments within the inquiries into the previous president and his allies.

There’s little likelihood, nevertheless, that Judge Reinhart will go that far.

The complete affidavit is more likely to contain telling details in regards to the Justice Department’s inquiry into whether Mr. Trump mishandled national defense documents and obstructed a federal investigation.

Typically, the courts have allowed redactions that protect “sources and methods” of current investigations. Judge Reinhart is unlikely to stray from that practice.

Legal experts say he’s all but certain to allow redactions of portions that mention the federal government’s witnesses, or parts that explicitly describe the explanations prosecutors consider there was probable cause to search out evidence of against the law at Mar-a-Lago, which could compromise the investigation.

However the affidavit continues to be more likely to be probably the most comprehensive description of events thus far and will provide, on the very least, a cogent timeline of the federal government’s efforts to retrieve the documents from Mr. Trump and his lawyers before the F.B.I. descended on Mar-a-Lago.

Mr. Trump’s legal team has already revealed lots of those efforts — amongst them, meetings with prosecutors and the issuance of federal subpoenas — in a motion filed this week searching for a special master to oversee a review of the seized documents.

And folks in his orbit have leaked some details, a part of a campaign to portray the department’s search as a partisan witch hunt overseen by Mr. Garland on the direction of President Biden.

Ultimately, nevertheless, it’s the contents of the boxes recovered from Mr. Trump’s residence, not the legal paperwork, that may determine the course of the investigation and the general public’s perception of it.

The affidavit, whether it is released mostly intact, could resolve a few of those questions.

A partial disclosure, then again, could deepen confusion.

A heavily redacted document “might just give fuel to those on one side or the opposite who, like a Rorschach test, will simply see what they need to see within the blacked-out spaces,” said Mr. Richman, the previous prosecutor.

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